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Conversations That Teach Resilience: Teens

March 31, 2015 by HealthyFamilies BC

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Resilience helps you cope with challenges, rise above negative feelings, bounce back from bad experiences, and move forward in the face of adversity. It is what allows you to look after yourself when life doesn’t go as planned. Have conversations that foster resilience to help prepare teenagers for the challenges they will face throughout life.


Self-efficacy is an essential building block of resilience. Help teens develop self-efficacy by structuring situations for them in ways that bring success. Avoid placing them in situations where they are likely to fail often. But remember, they do need to experience some failures. If they experience only easy successes, they come to expect quick results and are easily discouraged by failure.

Ask Teens to Evaluate Their Performance

Ask your teen to evaluate their own performance before giving them feedback. This helps them identify what they did well, what kind of effort they put into the task, and what they learned. Here’s a sample conversation:

Parent: How was school today?

Teen: Okay, I guess. We got a new assignment in History due next week that I’m dreading.

Parent: What’s the assignment about?

Teen: We have to write a historical essay. We get to choose the topic. Everyone else in class was all excited about that, but I have no idea what I’m going to write about!

Parent: Maybe it’ll be easier if you choose something you’re interested in?

Teen: Yeah I guess so. I did like learning about World War Two and how it started.

Parent: That sounds like a good topic.

Teen: Maybe I’ll look into it and see how it goes…

Share What You’ve Learned about Your Performance

Reinforce positive modelling, not only through your own behaviour, but by asking your child what they observed someone else doing well. Practise healthy self-reflection and share with teens what you liked about your own behaviour and what you might improve with practice or effort. Example:

Parent: How’s the history assignment coming along?

Teen: I decided to go with World War Two. Just have to write the essay. Don’t really know how to start it though...

Parent: What are other people in your class writing about?

Teen: Lots of stuff. But both Jeff and Andrew are writing about World War Two... Jeff always does really well.

Parent: Why do you think that is?

Teen: I don’t know. I guess he spends a lot of time working on things.

Parent: I remember writing essays for History class. And, like you, I used to struggle with getting the words down. I found that I had to do a lot of research in order to get a clear idea of the point I wanted to make. And, my mom taught me how to brainstorm and organize information using mind maps...

Teen: What’s a mind map? Maybe you can show me...

Tell Them What They Can Do, Not What They Didn’t Do

Failure is a necessary part of learning, and mastering of any difficult task takes repeated, concentrated practice. When giving feedback on areas that need to be addressed, tell teens what they can do in order to succeed at the task rather than what they did not do. Practise measuring success in terms of self improvement rather than by triumphs over others. Example:

Parent: So, did you get the marks back from your history assignment?

Teen: Yah. I got a C+...I thought I was going to do better.

Parent: You still learned about something you’re interested in though, right? Why do you think you didn’t do as well as you wanted?

Teen: I thought I made some really good points. But I guess my grammar and stuff was sloppy, I kind of rushed through writing it.

Parent: Sounds like you had a good grasp on what you wanted to say. Why did you rush?

Teen: Well, I stayed up late on Saturday night at Andrew’s place, so was super tired on Sunday and didn’t start writing it until later.

Parent: Now that you know how to focus your ideas, next time you can spend more time on writing. And maybe it would help if you worked on assignments before hanging out with your friends.

Teen: Yeah I guess so.

Teach Teens How to Calm Themselves When Stressed

Help teens tune into their bodies and explain how the physiological signs of stress are actually healthy mechanisms that get their bodies ready for action rather than signs of imminent failure. Teach them how to take slow deep breaths and feel the difference between tension and relaxation, and have them practise the feared task in their imagination while feeling good about themselves. Example:

Teen: I’m nervous about my history exam tomorrow. It’s worth a huge chunk of our grade!

Parent: That’s your body telling you to get prepared for action. It’s good to be aware that your body talks to you.

Teen: But what if “getting prepared for action” wears me out and I forget everything I studied?

Parent: Well, you could try calming yourself by taking slow, deep breaths. Let’s try it together right now….Can you feel the tension leaving your body?... Okay, now imagine yourself sitting at your desk, writing the exam, and knowing all the answers! A lot of successful people do this, they visualize themselves doing well to help them de-stress and focus.

Persevere in Building Resilience

Some teens and young adults are more sensitive than others, and some have challenges or personalities that make it harder for parents to keep practising building self-efficacy. If positive parenting is wearing you out, take a moment to practise building your own resilience. Don’t give up when it gets hard or when you fail at some aspect of parenting. Don’t tell yourself you can’t do it or it’ll never get better. Parenting takes a little patience, practice, and perspective - and a lot of love and humour.


Resources and Links:

HealthLink BC: Stress Management: Helping Your Child with Stress
HealthLink BC: Cognitive Development Ages 15-18 Years
Here to Help: Resilience: A guide for parents and youth

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